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Thursday AM – It’s early AM and the surf is looking perfect – some wave action but not too much. I think yesterday it was just too calm and clear; great for casting and whale watching but not so great for catching blues. High tide should be about 11:30 so the game plan is to go have some breakfast then come back and hit it hard. Nothing!!!

Ditto Friday – one keeper Pompano. The weather was perfect and I spent almost the whole day enjoying the beach but the fishing just never amounted to much/anything. Tom came up later in the afternoon and spent the night so that was great and we had help repacking the car.

So all in all, great beach trip but no fish pictures to decorate the blog – and not because I forgot the camera.

Saturday – back home. The garden was in need of a good watering but other than that, looked decent. When I had last seen it, the hail had chopped it up fairly well so there were plenty of dead leaves and broken branches to be snipped off but in general things didn’t look bad. The corn is now waist high and this year the crop features really thick, strong looking stalks. In the past, they were much skinnier and not as deeply green colored. It could be the particular variety or maybe the soil improvements are showing up. I picked a few nice squash, a couple of cucumbers, and the last of the cabbage – the hail had made this a bit ugly but I’m sure it will convert to slaw just fine.

Little Tommy now has three hot irons in the fire – an in person interview in Greenwood SC; a completed interview with the Grand Forks (ND) Herald; something with a paper in Aspen CO – I have no details on that opportunity but big Tom said it was a much smaller operation in the high rent district but who knows – Aspen vs Grand Forks vs Greenwood, hmmmmmmm have to think about that. The Grand Forks opportunity sounds the best, so far, professionally in that it’s the largest circulation paper to respond. Although Tom had really hoped for an offer from a magazine publisher, nothing so far. That’s the situation with all his buddies who were also focusing on magazine journalism so it’s a good thing he broadened the scope of his search to include newspapers.

Bluefish crabcakes

What a difference a day makes. Over night the weather turned cold an windy and the fish quitting biting. One problem we have is that after two months of above average temps and no warning from the weather reports, we brought no cool weather clothing at all.

Did pick up a tidbit that might make the whole trip worthwhile. I was talking to a guy who was also fishing for blues and he volunteered that the way he liked blues the most was as “cakes” – as in crab cakes. He said you cook the fish in Old Bay spices, just like you were boiling crabs, then flake the fish off the bones and use it as a crab neat substitute in any crab cake recipe you like. He likes the small blues best. I do have one fair sized blue and two smaller ones in the freezer and hate it that I tossed back nearly a dozen small ones so far but I have the rest of the week to build up a stash. I wonder if you could flake the fish meat and freeze it or would it be better to freeze the fish and flake it on an as needed basis?

Tuesday – Really colder but Nancy bought me a lined hoodie so I’m nice and toasty. Picked up a couple more blues at high tide so the crab cake situation is looking better all the time. I also cut off strips of belly meat to use for cut bait later in the week. This strip is boney and I always cut it off after cooking anyway so why not get it when I can put it to good use. I remembered doing that years ago and having great luck since the strip is really shiny and seems to attract blues as well as a strip of mullet does. Nancy’s off playing bridge in Palm Coast so today is my day to sip a cold one and read on the beach at low tide – observe nature.

Wed. This is the kind of day that scares me. The surf conditions can only be described as perfect; the weather is perfect; and I have every piece of proven tackle I need. Absolutely no excuses. What’s even worse is that a friend of mine is coming over to join me so there will be a witness. Pressure, pressure, pressure. I guess the other way to look at it is that with great conditions, great weather, and a friend to talk to, so what if the fish don’t cooperate. It will still be a great day. As it turns out, fishing was zero – plenty of dolphins, even some whales to keep me involved, but no blues etc.

Some Serious Fishing

Maybe I didn’t plant too many tomatoes. We just had a major hail storm – the biggest I’ve ever seen in Florida – and at first glance the tomatoes really took a beating. Ditto the cucumbers. We’re heading to the beach and will just have to let nature take it’s course for a week.

Tom came over Saturday to help us move to the beach. Each time we come it’s easier in terms of packing and unpacking simply because we bring less with us. Even my fishing tackle is lighter and I bring less of it. Ditto Nancy’s sewing stuff. She has it well calibrated as to exactly what she’s going to use and what project she’ll be working on so all the ancillary stuff is left home. And instead of bringing food from home, our first day routine now includes a trip to Publix where we buy exactly what we’ll need for the week. Of course Tom lugging it all upstairs is the real help.

First day fishing was a big zero. Of course I can blame that on the wrong tides, bad weather and stuff out of my control but those excuses disappear today. The beach has totally restored itself and returned to the cinnamon colored, soft, shelly texture that I love. For whatever reasons it had been that hard, white Daytona Beach kind of sand for the past two years. Also the nice, deep trough running parallel to the beach is back in place. That trough had disappeared along with the soft sand a year ago. Still no sign of any sand fleas so that takes away my favorite bait source but the fishing was hot, hot, hot. I dodged rain squalls all morning but in between was banging away at the blues. Total catch for the day: 1 medium sized sail cat; 2 bait size whiting to be used tomorrow to catch more blues; 10 bluefish, mostly small with two keepers; one small pompano. I think this is the best first day ever at the beach.

Cucumbers on the table

Picked the first two cucumbers and the sixth zucchini so we’re off and running. Got 100% germination on the okra seed so July is looking okra. Counted 30 green tomatoes on one bush – I’ve created a monster this year. There’s one tomato starting to turn pink which should be ready to pick when we get back from the beach – unless my neighbor sees it first.

While Nancy was visiting the doctor the other day, I slipped off to my favorite guy store – Harbor Freight. Last year I picked up a soaker hose there and it’s worked out very nicely so I picked up 4 more on sale. I should be able to water the whole garden now using the soakers. There are two advantages to watering with soakers as opposed to the arial variety. The obvious is that the water is placed right at the plant so evaporation is virtually eliminated. Less obvious, and more the reasons I’m going that way, is that getting the leaves wet attracts bugs and spiders onto the plants. I hate that. The other, even less obvious, advantage is that with a conventional sprinkler, airborne weed seed is pulled out of the air and dropped onto the garden, all ready to germinate. Believe it or not, airborne weed seed is the largest source of weeds. I put a 4 output manifold on the faucet so just opening that one spigot turns on all the new hoses at the same time.

We’re off to the beach tomorrow for a week of surf action. Of course the drought chose this weekend to break with a forecast of 2-3” Saturday and Sunday. Not sure whether it was the vacation plan or the soaker hose addition that brought on the much needed rain but we sure need it. I was concerned that the garden might burn up while we were gone but if we really do get that much rain, it will be fine for the rest of the week.

Update on George – he goes to Miami May 8 for further testing before have the new heart valve installed. He was under the impression that he would just go down and have the job done and be back home in 3 days. That didn’t seem logical to me but he was convinced it would be that simple. I’m guessing that, assuming all these tests come out positive, it will still be June before he actually has the procedure. And I’m still having trouble believing that he will be able to drive down to Miami, go in and have the valve installed, and then be home in Pierson in 3 days.

I’ve been 2+ pain free days so either the stone has found a comfortable place to hang out or maybe it passed. Would it be hiding in waiting for me to be knee deep in the surf before it starts up again??

Trouble coming?

Very ominous sighting this morning. I walked out the front door about 10AM and there was a large deer in the pathway between our property and May’s down by the lake. It took off as soon as it spotted me and ran in the right direction – that would be away from the garden but I’m afraid it’s only a matter of time before he finds it. Deer are what ended my gardening career in Utah so……………… Of course here I have a very industrious neighbor who benefits from the garden and may volunteer to put up a deer fence around the garden but I’m not sure how up to it he’ll be after the new heart valve is installed.

Is this fair? I have several friends who take excess plants I’ve started off my hands. I always start more seeds than I need to cover fall out so it’s nice that those plants find a loving, caring home. I get that. But how about when one of the plant tenders calls and asks if it’s ok to pick a couple of the eggplants when the plants I have from the exact same litter haven’t even blossomed yet. Or another recipient calls and tells us how good the eggplant was they had last night for dinner. These are total amateurs. In both cases, the guys live south of here, one by about 50 miles, the other 30 miles and the weather patterns here are such that it could mean a degree or two warmer night time temps but I sure wouldn’t think there would be that much difference. Ditto all this with tomatoes. Both are talking up the tasty tomatoes they’re harvesting while I’m still waiting for the green ones to show the slightest sign of turning pink.

I’m really working the tomatoes this year. In previous seasons, I’d put them in and deal with the survivors – kind of huppy scuppy. This year I put up a much more substantial trellis network and am relentlessly tying up the limbs and branches as they grow. Believe it or not, the San Marzano’s are 7′ tall and showing no signs of stopping. I counted 30 green tomatoes on one plant and it’s still loaded with blossoms. I’m doing a detailed visual inspection daily and any critter I happen across munching on the leaves is promptly squished. The very first year I used this approach but the nematodes destroyed everything from underground or the varieties I picked were susceptible to fungus or other diseases. This year the varieties are all (almost all) field tested by me and the nematodes are history.

Turns out that green peppers are not the easiest thing in the world to grow. I bent my pick the first year or so with approximately zero success. Things improved two years ago when I happened on a variety that grew no matter what – a variety called Declaration from Harris seed company in upstate NY. Last year I tried a few different varieties along with the one I knew worked and had a little more success but learned that you’re not supposed to plant different types of peppers close to each other because cross pollination is a no no. I also did some research and learned that surprisingly, peppers require more water than tomatoes and really require a lighter, airy soil. That explains exactly why my first couple of years were unsuccessful and hopefully means that I should have a banner year coming up. My soil is definitely now light and airy, I know to water more frequently, and I have enough space to put 50′ separation between varieties. If I don’t have super success this year………………… Right now I have 8 plants, 2 varieties that are looking quite good and have been in the garden since early March. I have 8 more plants, 4 jalapenos and 4 Marconi grilling peppers, in containers about 2 weeks away from the garden, and 2 containers of Italian heritage bell pepper seeds – one yellow, one red – hopefully only days away from germinating. These last ones are really gilding the lily and most likely not suited for our environment – but they sounded so good in the catalog, I just couldn’t resist trying. It’s really kind of late in the season but I figure I’ll learn something trying a few this year.

Have a kidney stone event going on.

Canoe gets it done

I’m taking full advantage of the ever shrinking lake and the ever expanding beach line. Aside from the rich muck, I’m able to trim back some shoreline dead wood and overhangs that have kept me from casting at some prime bass spots. I did a job today that I never thought I’d be able to get to. When we first moved in, the lake was low – not as low as now, but low – and we dropped some concrete cylinders on the shore underneath where the dock is now. At the time those cylinders supported a piece of plywood so we could work out a bit farther in the water. Not sure why we needed to do that but we did. Now those 25 cylinders are sitting high and dry and doing absolutely nothing. That was yesterday. Today they’ve been stacked into a stairway so that I can get down from the dock onto the beach without risking life and limb. Even better, when I’m down on the beach or under the dock, I can climb back onto the dock without crashing or looking like a spaz.

Tom and I went fishing on the Tomoka mainly to try out and newly renovated canoe. We’ve had this canoe in the family since the 80’s but it really looks good. It’s a square stern, outboard ready boat so the 5HP Nissan that came with the fold boat is a perfect match. The trailer needed a little work to convert it from john boat ready to canoe ready, to install new tires, and get the lights working but it all worked out really well. It did have a leak from years ago where I dragged it over some rough surface and the patch fell out again but Tom seems to have repaired that as well. We definitely intended to fish but the real objective was a shake down cruise on the boat and trailer. Good thing because the fishing was less than optimal and there were a few tweaks necessary to the trailer. The motor pushes the boat along nicely – 10mph per an app on Tom’s phone – and it launched and retrieved easily off and on the trailer. Tom will be able to deal with it himself nicely. We didn’t bring the electric trolling motor but figured out a way to make it work as a side mount for a future trip. As we thought, fishing from the canoe was a much more comfortable operation than using the fold boat and it was nice not to have the 20 minutes overhead on each end of a trip to assemble and dissemble the fold boat.

Got lots going on in the next couple of months. More than I can normally deal with in terms of having a full calendar. We go to the beach for a week starting the 21st; host a big family party to welcome the Spelman’s to Florida after the beach; go to Dallas then Missouri for Tommy’s graduation in early May; then Nancy goes to Salt Lake City near the end of May. And it sounds like somewhere in all that mix, there’s a growing possibility that my neighbor and good friend George will be going into the hospital for a heart valve replacement.

My preferred mode of operation is to have a completely clean slate so if I pick up the paper and it says the blues are running, I’m at the beach casting into the surf an hour later. That makes for an interesting life here since Nancy is exactly, and I mean exactly, the opposite. She keeps notes on a big calendar as to what’s happening in the future and works at making sure there are no blank spots for the next couple of months. And she fakes me out by making a simple notation regarding a doctor’s appointments hide a whole series of tied in events. If the doc is in Daytona, as long as we’re there…………………. So what looks like a one or two hour commitment is really a whole day of activities and at least one meal out and one quick stop at Joanne Fabric, Hobby Lobby and/or Walgreen’s. Those establishments are strategically located so we can virtually go nowhere without passing one and using a coupon that’s a real deal.

Too Much Compost?

Finally decided to get back in the poke boat and check out the reduced lake. I tried a few times after the surgery in October but it was just too uncomfortable and also it’s a real problem if an urge to pee comes on quickly. The latter problem seemed to have disappeared, as if by magic, at the start of this month so I decided to get on with it. No problem at all. I paddled around for a couple of hours learning exactly what this reduced water level lake presents then hopped out with no discomfort at all. So I’m going to be back fishing starting tomorrow bright and early. Found plenty of places with more than 4′ of water and good cover for the bass so I’m back in business. This is all good timing since the garden is about 95% planted and the picking won’t start for a couple of weeks; the mucking is or could be done so I have plenty of time to stalk bass.

All of the elements of the three sister planting are in and popping out. The corn is about a foot tall, the squash has germinated and put the first set of true leaves and the pole beans are just breaking out. I sure hope this all works out as planned. It’s hard to remember details from season to season but this corn looks much darker green and healthy than the last batch – as I recall. Also got the okra planted where the collard greens were.

I’ve often said you can’t have too much compost. I may have to retract that. I have one pile, a couple of cubic yards, that’s ready to go in the garden but there really isn’t any space needing it. On top of that the second pile, another few cubic yards, is only 6 weeks away from being useable. The lake bottom muck is making all the difference since I not only use it directly in the garden but layer it into the compost piles. These last two piles have needed no shredded palmetto fronds at all which makes a big difference in the speed of decomposition. Aside from the muck, we’ve had a banner crop of oak leaves and the winter crops produced a phenomenal amount of green material so that the resulting compost is maturing faster and is a softer, blacker mix. Good soil has been the limiting factor all along in expanding the useable production space but at this point we are full out in space – I would guess nearly doubling what we were able to use in good fashion 2 years ago. If I wanted I could add another couple hundred square feet “easily” but do I really, really need anything bigger. I don’t think so.

Great Easter

The Easter dinner came off just fine. The ham was perfect, salads great and all with wonderful company – I think we ended up with 14 of us. The weather couldn’t have been nicer. Nancy even talked Mark into changing the faucet on the kitchen sink and installing a new gasket on the dishwasher door.
I think we finally have a handle on the rat problem. No poison eaten in 4 days and, according to the guy at ACE, that’s the only way you really know you’ve gotten them. George actually found a (recently) dead one in his garage. The interesting thing about that was that it had built a nest under a bench and the blue-green pellets were being stored in the nest along with a pile of acorns. So that could explain why we went through so much poison – they were storing it away and not eating it.

I’m starting to think I overdid it on tomatoes this year. None of the 15 or 16 plants cratered and in fact, all are thriving beyond any season to date. It does seem, so far, that my time spacing is working out too. I have bushes with green tomatoes and blossoms, bushes with blossoms only, and bushes too young for blossoms but growing beautifully. It also looks like all the kinks are worked out of the old fire pit side garden. I have 6 tomato plants growing there and the bushes are excellent and full of blossoms and green tomatoes – two are actually taller than me. Last year I think two tomato plants actually produced anything in that spot and even those plants looked pretty shabby at that. That’s one reason why I think maybe I overdid it – I had planned on not too much from the fire pit.

Today’s Ham day

Took the ham out of the refrigerator on Friday. It had been soaking in the brine for a week. It looked just like a ham should look – pinkish. We were concerned that it might be too salty after soaking so long in the brine so I cut off a slice and fried it for a taste sample. Way too salty. The remedy is soaking it in water so that’s what’s happening now. Every several hours, we dump the salt water and replace with fresh water. We have two days to make it right. I’ve always heard that if you add potatoes to anything that’s too salty, the potatoes will pull out the salt. Trying that too. After about 12 hours did another test and sure enough, not too salty. Next step is the smoker job on Sunday. That’s a 4 hour process that involves a coating of mustard and brown sugar with an occasional spritz of pineapple juice. Seems like quite a lot to go through but now we can say we’ve done it all. Plan is to turn the smoker on about 9AM and put the ham in at 9:30. At some point along the way I’m going to put a rack in with a couple of turkey wings that are supposed to take 2-2 1/2 hours. Those are not for the Easter feast but as long as we’re smoking, might as well take the opportunity for the next day.

Picked the last two broccolis which leaves 4 more cabbages and a single cauliflower of the winter stuff. As hot as it’s been, I’m amazed that any of it is still living. My planning had this all happening in April but I never anticipated a summer like March.

My neighbor observed that the garden seemed to be producing a fine crop of PVC pipe, steel rods, and bamboo sticks. I have to admit when I looked at it, sure enough all the trellising and staking stands out. What do you think? Within a few weeks it will all be well hidden by the foliage. I’ve actually got tomato bushes approaching 6′ tall and the cucumbers are halfway up one side of the trellis and loaded with baby cuc’s.


Getting amazing growth from the squash plants under the insect covers. I originally set up the cover about 30” tall but a week ago the plants were bumping up against the covers to I added leg extensions to lift the height to 4′. Within a week, they are bumping up against the top again and sporting several small squash fruits that should be pickable next week. My concern about heat build-up under the covers was unwarranted.

My talented bride

The head count for Easter has crept up to 16. I had guesstimated 14-16 from the get go and we could still accommodate a couple more. Sure wish the lake level were up at normal but I’m guessing there will still be a fair amount of laking. I’m going to do a test swim before the big event. We’re going to eat on the screened porch and use a combination of the current hexagon shaped glass table and the two 6′ long tables that were Nancy’s previous sewing tables. Nancy made a table cloth that covered the two long tables and another that covered the glass table. Really worked out nicely.

Had the most significant armadillo attack ever. The garden must have been visited by a herd of rogue diller’s. The good news is that they restricted their digging almost entirely to the rows between the veggies. Not one plant lost – how lucky is that. I took a few pictures to give you an idea but one of the holes actually measured 30” deep. There were literally a dozen or so holes like these throughout the garden.

While on fauna – on Sunday I was working in the garden when down one edge of the property loped this giant dog. It was just casually galloping down to the lake where I lost sight of it. I watched carefully for a few minutes and then assumed it just left, following the newly exposed shoreline. I returned to work the compost piles and looked up to see the dog hopping along at a pretty good pace directly toward me. The dog was clearly a large, large hound dog – one of those black and brown, square face, big floppy ears types. His tail was wagging, his ears flopping, and his tongue dangling out and swinging from side to side. Although he was really big there was nothing at all menacing about him and within a second or two he came right up to me and started licking my hand. He was soaking wet so must have gone for a swim. I petted his head and scratched his neck for a few minutes and then he just said goodbye and started back up to the neighbor’s house. No doubt this was a very good, valuable dog that had gotten away from his home; very nice collar and clearly a well groomed, well fed dog.

Found a large deposit on the driveway this morning. Either we have lions, tigers and elephants or it was the bear. My neighbor said he was visited last night and all of his trash cans were turned over and the contents strewn about. Also found a fish carcass up about 25′ from the water’s edge in the vicinity of my mucking operation. It was half eaten, head and innards, so it was most likely an otter. That’s how they characteristically feed. I scooped up the carcass and planted it up in the collard patch. Wonder if I scooped up the bear present and put it in the garden, would it deter the armadillos? Not going to try.